Every day, we share information online. We wish friends happy birthday on Facebook. We post pictures of our children, grandchildren and pets. We even buy things, pay bills, and check our back accounts online. There are people online – criminals and others – who want to do us harm to accessing the personal information we share. But don’t panic! There are ways you can protect yourself online. Implementing any of these suggestions will make you safer than you were before.
The number one way to protect your information online is to create a strong password. Your password is the lock that keeps others out of your online accounts.
Guidelines to Creating Strong Passwords:
- Never use personal information such as your name, birthday, pet’s name, hobby, favorite sport’s team, spouse or child’s name. Personal information is often publicly available, which makes it easier for someone to guess your password. For example, someone can easily find your wife or child’s name through a quick Google search or look through your social media profile.
- Never use your email address, username or login id as your password.
- Do not use consecutive numbers or letters such as 12345678, abcdefg or qwerty (from the first row of letters on the keyboard) as your password or as part of your password.
- Use a longer password. A password should be at least six characters long, and for extra security it should ideally be at least 12 characters if the site allows it.
- Don’t use the same password for each account. If someone discovers the password for one account, all of your other accounts are vulnerable
- Try to include numbers, symbols, and both uppercase and lowercase letters.
- Spaces can also be used to make a password stronger.
- Avoid using words that can be found in the dictionary. For example, swimming1 would be a weak password.
- Random passwords are the strongest. Use a password generator instead of trying to think of your own. One password generator to try is the Norton Password Generator: identitysafe.norton.com/password-generator/
The disadvantage of using a random password is that they are difficult to remember. For a strong, but easy to remember password, try creating a password from a sentence. This sentence could be something about your life, a favorite quote or a song lyric.
First, write out the sentence. It’s best if it includes uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Then, take the first letter of each word and create a password. In our example sentence, I substituted an ampersand (&) for the ‘and’ to add another symbol to the password.
The resulting password is very strong, but also pretty easy to remember!
Your strong password is useless if you forget to sign out of websites, especially on public computers like those in the library. Simply closing the browser doesn’t necessarily log you out! It’s like leaving your house without locking the doors behind you. Always click on the Sign Out or Log Out button to make sure your information stays protected.
Many online scams occur through email. This is called phishing – the person is literally “fishing” for your information and hoping you’ll take the bait.
How to recognize phishing emails
Phishing emails usually include one or more of the following things:
- Does not address the person by name
- Asks for personal information such as birth date, social security number, your name etc
- May contain a threat or warning (Your account will be suspended if…)
- Has spelling and grammar errors
- Will appear to be from a reliable organization or company
- Was sent from a deceptive email address (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you come across a phishing or other suspicious email, most email services have a Report Spam button. This button is typically located above the sender information. Clicking this button will delete the email and help your email service provider block similar future emails.
I’ve previously talked about encryption, which helps protect your information online. Remember to only enter personal information in secured websites. Not sure if the website is secured? Take a look in the address bar.
A secured or encrypted website
- begins with https://
- displays a lock icon
Most online stores protect your financial information and address by securing their websites. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter also use encryption to protect your personal information.
For more information on protecting yourself online, check out these computer classes:
- Computer Basics Part 6: Internet Security Basics on Wednesday, December 21 at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, February 22 at 11 a.m.
- Internet Safety and Security on Tuesday, January 31 at 11 a.m.
Registration opens two weeks before the date of the class. Sign-up for these and any other computer classes at heightslibrary.org or by calling (216) 932-3600.
To read more about the library’s commitment to privacy, check out Heights Library Prioritizes Privacy, written by library director Nancy Levin.